Stone firm Szerelmey started out in 1855, specialising in stone preservation and restoration, and time has been good to it.

With a permanent staff in London of 27, and up to 120 operatives fitting cladding, laying floors, or restoring buildings, the company turned over £15m of work in 2007. The amount of work, and the need to concentrate on core markets, has seen it split into three divisions: Szerelmey concentrates on the London market; GB undertakes national work, and Restoration. We speak to senior contracts manager Gary Williams about firm floors and family firms.

I moved to Szerelmey at the end of 2003, after spending years at a much larger firm. It remains a family firm and has a far more flexible work ethos. I oversee estimation of contracts and front-end work. Our main work is in the commercial and retail markets. I’m now working on two internal flooring contracts in London – One Coleman Street for Stanhope and Legal and General, and Basinghall Avenue, both with Bovis as construction manager.

We’ve found that our flooring contracts are increasingly being let with a letter of intent, allowing us to design, develop and then put a final price to the worked-up scheme without having to price the job according to risk. It’s a method that works for everyone, especially the client. We’ve been paid for our works up to that point, and if they don’t choose to go with us, they have full ownership of the drawings to take elsewhere and procure with someone else. It’s a win-win situation for them, and is getting more popular, as it’s seen as a safer way of contracting.

Floors in major buildings can require huge amounts of stone, and early consultation with architects to discuss their needs makes for a better project. Stone is a natural material that has particular properties and colour variations, even from within the same quarry. If you’re specifying 18,000m2 of the stuff, you should expect colour variations.

It also helps to choose a stone at the outset, as it gives everyone a chance to see it installed somewhere and see how it’s performing in the real world. It allows the main contractor to consider at the outset the flooring installation sequence – protecting the floor from other trades once it is installed is vital. So vital, in fact, that we even have clients commissioning us to oversee a protection regime once they are down. Incorporating all of these ideas into a contract, we’ve found, can save the client up £80,000 on a £1m project.

At Drake’s Circus in Plymouth, we had a £1.4m project to install 5,500m2 of polished and flamed Chinese granite into a new shopping centre. It was a complex job, with a lot of programme issues. Retail buildings can be a nightmare – shop tenants are a law unto themselves when it comes to fitting out their own spaces, whether the stone is protected or not. But on the whole the contract went well. The client was involved, and they visited the quarry with us in China. The more people are involved in the process form the outset, the less they have a false impression of what they’re buying when it finally arrives.

The client wanted that stone sealed, which is usual, although at Bluewater all the limestone is unsealed, and it’s slowly being sealed by the foot traffic.

If you ask me about whether stone should be sealed, I would say that I don’t like the idea of using chemicals to seal a natural material. That said, if it were a white marble floor, I’d recommend sealing, as I would with a slate one. Sealing and resealing though will require a maintenance regime, so make sure you know what it is.